The 1979 Iranian Revolution: A Personal Story

13 06 2009

We were all set to move to Tehran, Iran in 1978. My (then) husband was a software engineer with Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and we had the opportunity of a lifetime to move there (and him to work there) with our one-year-old baby girl.

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Iran seemed stable then.  Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was the leader and had been since he came to power in 1941. He had put in place a lot of positive reforms, called the White Revolution, in Iran such as giving women the right to vote, advancing the country technologically and economically, guaranteeing children the right to go to school, allowing share croppers to own land, etc.

There was no Internet then, but I researched Iran the best I could. EDS gave us a packet of information on what to expect about living there and I learned more at the library. I knew it would be really different from living in the U.S. Things like celery and iceburg lettuce and other foods were hard to get and expensive when you could find them. I wouldn’t be driving there, but would have some freedom of movement. There was no email so contact with my family would be mostly through letters and the rare (and expensive) phone call. Still, I was ready for the adventure.

Ayatollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini

Things happened to change all that. Previously the Shah had Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was critical of his regime, imprisoned for 18 months and then deported in 1964 after Khomeini’s release and criticism of the U.S. government. Khomeini continued to speak out against the Pahlavi regime from exile. The Iranian (also called the Islamic) Revolution began in January 1978. A few months later, EDS asked if we would consider going to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia instead of Tehran. We didn’t really understand why, but they explained it would be safer. We changed course and agreed…and my research began anew. I became pregnant with our second child and had to hold back on going to Jeddah. Their father went around the beginning of November 1978. I, and our two children, didn’t go over until July 1979.

Amidst the backdrop of our changing personal saga, chaos had broken out in Iran and the Shah and his family had to flee the country in January 1979. His regime collapsed two weeks later. EDS employees fled the U.S.-friendly regime with the clothes on their back. Many of them came later to Jeddah and we were regaled with harrowing and heroic stories.

Khomeini returned from 15 years of exile and on 4/1/79, the people of Iran voted to become an Islamic Republic. In December of 1979, the people approved a theocratic (where God is considered the supreme civil ruler) constitution and Khomeini became the Supreme Leader, the highest ranking political and religious figure in the country. He has authority even over the president of Iran. Tens of thousands of loyalists to the previous regime were executed after Khomeini took office.

At this point, the U.S./Iran relationship deteriorated. On 11/4/79 Iranian students seized U.S. embassy personnel, accusing them of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.  Khomeini supported them. Most of the women and African-American hostages were released after a few months, but the remaining 52 hostages were held captive for 444 days. They were set free in January 1981 in exchange for promises that included the U.S. removing a freeze on Iranian assets and not interfering with Iranian affairs.

While my family and I were spared the drama, tension, and danger in Iran, we were living in Jeddah when the Grand Mosque was seized and held for two weeks by Islamic terrorists on 11/20/79.  I wrote about this in a post entitled “Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj.” I witnessed on the streets what an area under siege in a Middle Eastern country looks like.

Once again we seemed to escape potential danger unwittingly. We returned to the United States around mid-September of 1980. On 9/22/80 Saddam Hussein and Iraq invaded a weakend (from the revolution) Iran and thus began the Iran-Iraq War. It lasted until 1988 when Khomeini begrudgingly accepted a truce negotiated by the United Nations. 500,000 – 1 million Iranians died in this war; 100,000 of them from Iraqi chemical weapons.

Ali KhameneiKhomeini reigned as Supreme Leader until he died on 6/3/89. Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader in 1989 and remains so in 2009. Iran had two additional presidents before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

I was a 25-year-old, wide-eyed, ready-for-anything young woman when my family was going to move to Iran. Things were pretty peaceful then. It seemed really exciting.

Today, in the aftermath of what looks like a rigged election, there is rioting in the streets of Iran. The people are crying out for freedom and representation and being heard. It’s a dangerous place to be. I could’ve walked amongst these people 30 years ago, but it would’ve been a different Iran, an Iran that was making progress and restoring rights to women and children and peasants.

Today, and the last 30 years, seem to have been a setback for the Iranians. I wonder when their country will be restored to peace and to being a place where another wide-eyed, brave young U.S. mother would dare to go undaunted with her family to have the adventure of a lifetime.

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Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking?

5 06 2009

I got a glimpse of the underbelly of fraudsters and organized crime a couple of years ago when I worked at a company that created software for online retailers to help them process good payments and weed out fraudulent ones. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world I hadn’t been exposed to and only knew about peripherally.

Hands and feet in Chains from iStockPhotoOnline fraud started out as pranksters or one-off transactions…individuals trying to get something for nothing. There’s still that happening, but online fraud progressed to being perpetrated by large organized crime rings, with a lot of it coming from eastern Europe and western Africa. Why the change? Organized crime can hide anonymously behind a computer, and with their organizations being so spread out geographically and across many jurisdictions, most law enforcement groups are not able to catch them. It’s an easy crime for many of them.

Analysts from my previous company monitored chat rooms where criminals sold stolen credit cards…or the information on your credit card or social security card… for $10 each. They got inside the criminals’ territories and learned the tricks of what they were doing…hiring waiters to take skimming machines and run credit cards through them to capture the information in the strip when you give them your card to pay for dinner, installing fake fronts to ATMs to capture the keystrokes of your PIN and your debit card number, etc. They had to find ways to put techniques in the software that allows retailers to stay two steps ahead of the criminals, who are very tech-savvy themselves.

As part of my work, I had several calls with the IC3…the Internet Crime Complaint Center…and the FBI and participated in the announcement of the www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com initiative, to help people avoid becoming a victim of online fraud. I was the press manager (one of the many hats I wore) for a large organization of retailers that came together to develop best practices to combat and prevent online fraud.

Okay…perhaps some of that is interesting…but my point of saying all that is this…organized crime got really savvy about how to commit fraud online. There have been a lot of businesses (including the one I worked with) that built software to prevent and stop this fraud and find these savvy fraudsters, which has led to many prosecutions.

Retailers banded together to pool their knowledge of how to outsmart the criminals. It’s a constant cat and mouse game; the fraudsters learn how to go around the software and the software companies come up with new techniques they hope the fraudsters can’t go around.

If all that is possible, why aren’t there businesses out there developing software…and maybe there are but I don’t know about them…that look for certain patterns and other things to detect that someone online might be engaging in child trafficking or sexual exploitation? There is software for keeping databases of sex offenders, but I’m talking about software that would stop this stuff from happening in the first place…that would disallow child pornography from being sold or a child being sold online.

Unfortunately, a lot of child trafficking is done the low-tech way…not online…so admittedly this makes it more difficult to track when it happens. But…just as fraud in stores orginally was mostly stealing stuff in stores (and of course this still happens) but progressed to online massive stealing…I suspect that child trafficking may also “progress” (if it isn’t already happening) to being done online.

Isn’t it worth it for someone to be developing high-tech solutions to stop and find traffickers? It seems at least an international tracking system is needed. I see so many stories about trafficking in so many countries. Is anyone looking at the big picture and tracking these occurrences across countries? In the retail world, that’s the only way they are beginning to find some of these organized crime rings and prosecute them.

Does anyone know if anything like this is being done? Isn’t it about time it was?

UPDATE 10/19/09: After writing this article, I received an email from the National Association to Protect Children. Read what they and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories are doing to stop child predators in the post I wrote on 10/19/09 entitled Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators.





We Can’t Afford To Turn Away

31 05 2009
We pay a high price for refusing to look at the atrocities being committed all over the world. The atrocities continue…bodies, minds, and hearts are destroyed…and we bear a collective responsibility and guilt for allowing them to continue.
 
My family members and friends rarely visit my blog and read my posts. Most never have. They don’t want to read about what I write about…particularly the abuse and injustice toward women and children all over the world. I try and talk with them about it and they don’t want to hear.

To refuse to see and acknowledge what is going on winds up hurting all of us at a very deep level. We deny the humanity of others who have less opportunity and more injustice than we do. How can we live with that? By staying incredibly busy and tuning out the inconvenient and raw truth? How authentic are our lives when we constantly do that? How authentic is our humanity?
 
Here’s an excellent New York Times op-ed column on this posted May 30. What are your thoughts?

“Holding On to Our Humanity” by Bob Herbert

Overload is a real problem. There is a danger that even the most decent of people can grow numb to the unending reports of atrocities occurring all around the globe. Mass rape. Mass murder. Torture. The institutionalized oppression of women.

There are other things in the world: a ballgame, your daughter’s graduation, the ballet. The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it’s a tendency, as Elie Wiesel has cautioned, that must be fought.

We have an obligation to listen, for example, when a woman from a culture foreign to our own recalls the moment when time stopped for her, when she was among a group of women attacked by soldiers:

“They said to us: ‘If you have a baby on your back, let us see it.’ The soldiers looked at the babies and if it was a boy, they killed it on the spot [by shooting him]. If it was a girl, they dropped or threw it on the ground. If the girl died, she died. If she didn’t die, the mothers were allowed to pick it up and keep it.”

The woman recalled that in that moment, the kind of throbbing moment when time is not just stopped but lost, when it ceases to have any meaning, her grandmother had a boy on her back. The grandmother refused to show the child to the soldiers, so both she and the boy were shot.

A team of female researchers, three of them physicians, traveled to Chad last fall to interview women who were refugees from the nightmare in Darfur. No one has written more compellingly about that horror than my colleague on this page, Nick Kristof. When I was alerted to the report that the team had compiled for Physicians for Human Rights, my first thought was, “What more is there to say?”

And then I thought about Mr. Wiesel, who has warned us so eloquently about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.

The conflict has gone on for more than six years, and while the murders and mass rapes have diminished, this enormous human catastrophe is still very much with us. For one thing, Sudan has expelled humanitarian aid groups from Darfur, a move that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told Mr. Kristof “may well amount to genocide by other means.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the systematic sexual attacks on Darfuri women have been widely reported. Millions have been displaced and perhaps a quarter of a million Darfuris are living in conditions of the barest subsistence in refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, to be released officially on Sunday (available at darfuriwomen.org), focuses on several dozen women in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad. The report pays special attention to the humanity of the women.

“These are real people with children, with lives that may have been quite simple, but were really rich before they were displaced,” said Susannah Sirkin, a deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

The conditions in the refugee camps are grim, made worse by the traumas that still grip the women, many of whom were witnesses — or the victims — of the most extreme violence.

“I don’t think I was prepared for the level of just palpable suffering that they are continuing to endure,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the four interviewers. “Women were telling me they were starving. They’re eating sorghum and oil and salt and sugar.”

Dr. Crosby and her colleagues had a few crackers or cookies on hand for the women during the interviews. “I don’t think I saw even one woman eat the crackers, even though they were hungry,” she said. “They all would hide them in their dresses so they could take them back to their children.”

The women also live with the ongoing fear of sexual assault. According to the report, rape is a pervasive problem around the refugee camps, with the women especially vulnerable when they are foraging for firewood or food.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims,” said Mr. Wiesel, in a speech at the White House in 1999. “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”

But indifference to the suffering of others “is what makes the human being inhuman,” he said, adding: “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”





Vaginas and Lives Mutilated in the Congo: Thoughts from the Writer of The Vagina Monologues

18 05 2009

Eve Ensler, who authored the play “The Vagina Monologues,” wrote today about the horrors of what women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are experiencing. I tried to explain  to my  mother about what Eve wrote about and she said her system can only take so much and she couldn’t hear any more. I get that. It’s hard to hear. But we must have courage and acknowledge the horrors. Only by acknowledging and spreading the word to others who will also acknowledge what is happening can the proper light be shed on this tragedy and solutions will follow. Here’s Eve’s article. All that follows was posted on Huffington Post today.

“War on Women in Congo” by Eve Ensler, posted 5/18/09 on Huffington Post

I write today on behalf of countless V-Day activists worldwide, and in solidarity with my many Congolese sisters and brothers who demand justice and an end to rape and war.

It is my hope that these words and those of others will break the silence and break open a sea of action to move Congolese women toward peace, safety and freedom.

My play, The Vagina Monologues, opened my eyes to the world inside this world. Everywhere I traveled with it scores of women lined up to tell me of their rapes, incest, beatings, mutilations. It was because of this that over 11 years ago we launched V-Day, a worldwide movement to end violence against women and girls.

The movement has spread like wildfire to 130 countries, raising $70 million. I have visited and revisited the rape mines of the world, from defined war zones like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti to the domestic battlegrounds in colleges and communities throughout North America, Europe and the world. My in-box — and heart — have been jammed with stories every hour of every day for over a decade.

Nothing I have heard or seen compares with what is going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where corporate greed, fueled by capitalist consumption, and the rape of women have merged into a single nightmare. Femicide, the systematic and planned destruction of the female population, is being used as a tactic of war to clear villages, pillage mines and destroy the fabric of Congolese society.

In 12 years, there have been 6 million dead men and women in Congo and 1.4 million people displaced. Hundreds and thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured. Babies as young as 6 months, women as old as 80, their insides torn apart. What I witnessed in Congo has shattered and changed me forever. I will never be the same. None of us should ever be the same.

I think of Beatrice, shot in her vagina, who now has tubes instead of organs. Honorata, raped by gangs as she was tied upside down to a wheel. Noella, who is my heart — an 8-year-old girl who was held for 2 weeks as groups of grown men raped her over and over. Now she has a fistula, causing her to urinate and defecate on herself. Now she lives in humiliation.

I was in Bosnia during the war in 1994 when it was discovered there were rape camps where white women were being raped. Within two years there was adequate intervention. Yet, in Congo, femicide has continued for 12 years. Why? Is it that coltan, the mineral that keeps our cell phones and computers in play, is more important than Congolese girls?

Is it flat-out racism, the world’s utter indifference and disregard for black people and black women in particular? Is it simply that the UN and most governments are run by men who have never known what it feels like to be raped?

What is happening in Congo is the most brutal and rampant violence toward women in the world. If it continues to go unchecked, if there continues to be complete impunity, it sets a precedent, it expands the boundaries of what is permissible to do to women’s bodies in the name of exploitation and greed everywhere. It’s cheap warfare.

The women in Congo are some of the most resilient women in the world. They need our protection and support. Western governments, like the United States, should fund a training program for female Congolese police officers.

They should address our role in plundering minerals and demand that companies trace the routes of these minerals. Make sure they are making and selling rape-free-products. Supply funds for women’s medical and psychological care and seed their economic empowerment. Put pressure on Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and other countries in the Great Lakes region to sit down with all the militias involved in this conflict to find a political solution.

Military solutions are no longer an option and will only bring about more rape. Most of all, we must support the women. Because women are at the center of this horror, they must be at the center of the solutions and peace negotiations. Women are the future of Congo. They are its greatest resource.

Sadly, we are not the first to testify about these atrocities in Congo. I stand in a line of many who have described this horror. Still, in Eastern Congo, 1,100 women a month are raped, according to the United Nations’ most recent report. What will the United States government, what will all of you reading this, do to stop it?

Let Congo be the place where we ended femicide, the trend that is madly eviscerating this planet — from the floggings in Pakistan, the new rape laws in Afghanistan, the ongoing rapes in Haiti, Darfur, Zimbabwe, the daily battering, incest, harassing, trafficking, enslaving, genital cutting and honor killing. Let Congo be the place where women were finally cherished and life affirmed, where the humiliation and subjugation ended, where women took their rightful agency over their bodies and land.

Note: Eve Ensler is the playwright of “The Vagina Monologues” and the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day has funded over 10,000 community-based anti-violence programs and launched safe houses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq. V-Day has launched a joint global campaign with UNICEF – STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE: Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC. (http://www.vday.org) This commentary was originally adapted for CNN.com from remarks Ensler made Wednesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs and the Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues.





1.2 Million Child Prostitutes in India

12 05 2009

This is heartbreaking. Over one million children live treacherous and degraded lives due to being trafficked in prostitution in India. And 100 million people are involved in human trafficking in India. ONE HUNDRED MILLION. These numbers are staggering and incredibly disturbing.

Child Prostitute in India

Child Prostitute in India

This is a country that has so much poverty and yet so much promise. Business has exploded there. And yet it is definitely a country of the haves and the have nots…those who are benefitting from the business explosion and those who live in the slums in abject poverty. Opportunists play both sides…the wealthy buy children to have sex with. The poor sell their children into prostitution. They are all players in this sick and soul-killing game.

If India as a country and as a people does not take bold steps to raise up the poor and stamp out child prostitution, they will see generations of moral and spiritual destitution and poverty that will plague them and destroy any potential greatness their country could realize.

Here’s the CNN article on this:

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) — Around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution in India, the country’s federal police said Monday.

Ashwani Kumar, who heads the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), told a seminar on human trafficking, that India occupied a “unique position” as what he called a source, transit nation and destination of this trade.

India’s home secretary Madhukar Gupta remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.

“The number of trafficked persons is difficult to determine due to the secrecy and clandestine nature of the crime.

“However, studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children,” a CBI statement said.

Prostitution in pilgrim towns, exploitation through sex tourism and pedophilia are some of some of the “alarming trends” that have emerged in recent years in India, it noted.

Authorities believe 90 percent of human trafficking in India is “intra-country.”

UPDATE 9/27/09: Please visit my friend Shelley Seale’s blog on her book The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children in India. She writes about traveling there four times and witnessing the horrors of children living in orphanages, in the slums, and being vulnerable to being trafficked.





SLAP HER: Advice at a Saudi Domestic Violence Seminar

11 05 2009

Judge Hamad Al-Razine advised men to slap their wives at a recent seminar in Saudi Arabia on domestic violence. Here’s what he said:

If a person gives SR 1,200 [$320] to his wife and she spends 900 riyals [$240] to purchase an abaya [the black cover that women in Saudi Arabia must wear] from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment.

Credit: AFP Getty Images

Credit: AFP Getty Images

Women in the audience booed…and rightly so. Arab News, which reported this, said that Al-Razine was trying to explain why domestic violence has increased recently when he made the comments. Al-Razine said that women and men shared responsibility, but also said that “nobody puts even a fraction of blame on women.” 

According to Arab News, Al-Razine: 

…also pointed out that women’s indecent behavior and use of offensive words against their husbands were some of the reasons for domestic violence in the country.

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for 14 months many years ago. Every time I see stories like this, it makes me angry. This is yet another example of men…and this time validated by a judge…using violence to subjugate women. Women have little opportunity to be indecent in this country. They wear veils everywhere they go. They cannot socialize, attend classes, work, or even be seen with a man who is not their husband. When friends come to visit in homes, men socialize with the men in one room and women visit with the women in another room.

It’s a religion that men use to repress women and attitudes like the one this judge displayed…and at a seminar on domestic violence…that keep Saudi women from gaining basic rights and being free from domestic violence.

It’s never okay to slap a woman. NEVER.





Somaly Mam: One of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and a Real Hero

5 05 2009

She was raped and tortured for five years in a horrendous brothel. Her parents and then her grandmother had disappeared. She was left to fend for herself. A “grandfather” (really a stranger) said he’d help. He raped her at age 10 or 12, made her be his personal slave, and then sold her at age 14 into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She escaped in 1993 and returned to help others living through the same nightmare. Somaly Mam is a true and courageous hero(ine).

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

In 1996 she founded a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, which is French for Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) to help law enforcement rescue trafficked women and children from brothels and bring them back into society. One of every 40 Cambodian girls is sold into sexual slavery; some are as young as five years old.

So far, she has helped more than 4,000 women escape a life of sexual slavery. Somaly has suffered enormously for the stand she has taken and the work she has done. She has received death threats and assaults, had her house burned down, and endured the horrific kidnapping, drugging, and raping of her 14-year-old daughter in 2006. She courageously continues the work.

She details her experience in the September 2008-released book The Road of Lost Innocence. She offers vision and leadership to the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending slavery.

In November 2008 she was the first recipient of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award “in recognition of her fight for a world without slavery” from the new human rights and Munich-based Roland Berger Foundation. The 1 million euro ($1.269 million) she received to continue her work is almost exactly the amount awarded to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has won several other prestigious awards.

Somaly Mam was named this week one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and was lauded with the others named tonight at the TIME 100 Gala in New York. Angelina Jolie, who with her partner Brad Pitt adopted their son Maddox from Cambodia, wrote the TIME article about Somaly Mam. She is an Oscar-winning actress, goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Somaly Mam suffered tremendously in the first part of her life. She not only lifted herself up, but so many others with her decision to help those who lived the horrors she did. She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands of trafficked young women and has given a face and voice to human trafficking throughout the world.

Stand up and applaud. This woman is a true hero.

Here are Somaly Mam and Somaly Mam Foundation board member and actress Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks show.





Stand By Me

30 04 2009

Who do you stand by? Today. Right now. A child? Spouse or significant other? Best friend?  Maybe yourself? Is that about it? Hmmm. Too busy, too frazzled, or just don’t give a damn to stand by anyone else? Do you even think about others outside your primary relationships? Of course you do…right?

You are like a cell in the total of the human(ity) body. For this every-human-on-the-planet body to be healthy and functioning, each cell needs to be healthy. Think those women being children and women being raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo don’t affect your life? You have a deadly cancer…good luck. Think Chinese women being forced to abort 9-month-old fetuses to comply with the one-child law doesn’t affect you? You lost your sight…how does that feel?

globe-in-hands-smallerEspecially in the U.S. we have had this notion that we are independent and not connected to the rest of the world…that global body. Look what happened with the economic crisis here…it brought down economies around the world. Our greed, self-centeredness, and narcissim infected others and caused the global body harm.

Now look at the power of what one person can do. President Obama has such a positive, calm, comforting, reassuring, thoughtful, and attentive demeanor and he is lifting us all up. Our global cells are starting to hum and vibrate with hope again.

We are all interconnected. It starts with one person…and then another…and then another…and then another… Who do you stand by? Who do you stand with? Who do you connect with? The answer to that last question? EVERYONE.

 We all need each other. Stand by me. I stand by you.

 From the award-winning documentary “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music”…enjoy!





LGBT (Gay) in Iraq: A Horrible Way to Die

28 04 2009

Captured, mutilated with a glue applied to seal the buttocks and then fed a powerful laxative. The result: a horrible way to die.

Credit: CNN

Credit: CNN

That’s the way an article starts about what is being done by Iraqi militias to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people in Iraq after a fatweh was issued against them there.

Several LGBT people have been found dead in Iraq and it is reported that there is a movement to wipe out LGBT people in Iraq altogether. I wrote about the danger for them there in my post entitled LGBT (Gay) in America…LGBT in Iraq.

Read the whole article about this horrific sexual cleansing and torture.

I hope you’ll take the time to sign online the Protect Iraqi LGBT petition to ask President Obama to get involved to stem the killing and torture of LGBT people in Iraq.

This is horrendous. Spread the word. Sign the petition or go to www.whitehouse.gov and ask the White House to speak out about this. It’s bad enough how gay people are treated in the United States. This is worse.





Waking Up from a Tortured Past

26 04 2009

King Leopold II of Belgium was responsible for the deaths of 10 – 15 million people in the Congo between 1885 and 1908…twice the number that Hitler had killed. Have you even heard of him? I hadn’t until I read the unbelievable book King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild.

King Leopold II

King Leopold II

Leopold could not convince Belgium to get involved in colonization so he developed his own private company…the International African Society…and laid claim to the area he called the Congo Free State, which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He cloaked his takeover of this land and the ivory and rubber trades as doing philanthropic work.

Wikipedia says: ” With a complex scheme of political intrigue, corruption and propaganda, he wins the assistance of one of the greatest explorers of the time, Henry Morton Stanley, as well as that of public opinion and of powerful states.”

It took decades for people outside the Congo Free State to know the absolute reign of terror he held over those people, his ruthlessness, and the massacre of over half the population. Outsiders believed he was liberating the Congo people and helping them.

The world has amnesia or ignorance of this monster and the mass killings and maiming he ordered and caused. This reign of terror that King Leopold II started seems to be imprinted in the psyche of the people in the DRC.

Millions of people are still being killed on the same land…today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Second Congo War…the “African World War”…which started in 1998 and on paper ended in 2003 (but still continues) has resulted in 5.4 million deaths.

Child Soldiers in the DRC

Child Soldiers in the DRC - Credit: Reuters

Horrendous rapes and other sexual violence committed there as a tool of war are the worst in the world. Children are seized by the armies to serve as soldiers and sexual slaves. Over half of the victims of sexual violence are children. Girls and women are raped and their insides are then torn apart with butts of rifles, burned, or other horrors. I wrote a post Women Suffer Atrocities Silently in the Congo about this.

So what does this have to do with you and me? We have just lived through eight years of a monarch who appeared on the surface…as did King Leopold II…to be beneficent. Horrible atrocities were being committed, though, and justified under the guise of keeping us safe.

Yoga science defines samskara as “…an imprint from past experience in the unconscious mind, which later creates our experiences by causing a person to automatically behave a certain way.”

How does one…or a nation…heal from samskaras? By becoming aware of these imprints, deciding we are not going to just react like a Pavlovian dog, and by choosing different and healthier responses.

We must wake up from this 9/11 terror-induced coma we have been living in and acknowledge what was being done and hold people accountable for their atrocities. Otherwise we, like the people in the Congo, will hold torture in our psyches and will not be able to move on to being a more enlightened, awake, ethical, and peaceful people.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — Poet and Philosopher George Santayana

A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.” –Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron

UPDATE 4/29/09: Human Rights Watch issued an alert today as reported on Reuters:

More than 100,000 displaced civilians in Lubero territory in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo desperately need protection from further attacks by Rwandan militias and Congolese forces, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations peacekeeping force and humanitarian agencies to take urgent steps to increase protection and assistance to the civilians at risk.

You can read the full report on Reuters here.





Three Cups of Tea’s Greg Mortenson: An Unlikely Hero, A Builder of Schools

24 04 2009
Greg Mortenson didn’t set out to be a hero, but life pushed him into it. His sister Christa, a lifelong epileptic, died and he decided to honor her memory in 1993 by climbing Pakistan’s K2, the second highest mountain in the world and possibly the most difficult to climb. After 78 days, he did not reach the summit and stumbled into the village of Korphe…ill, worn out, exhausted.

The people there nursed him back to health. He visited the local school and saw 84 children writing their lessons in the dirt. They so desired an education, but poverty prevented them from having what they needed to learn. He promised the people he would come back and build them a school.

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

That promise led Greg to build 78 schools…and counting… in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 28,000 students so far have gotten an education because of Greg’s promise and passion.

The thing that is remarkable about Greg is that he had no money when he returned to the U.S. He lived in his car for a while. But he was determined to keep that promise. He wrote letters to 580 prominent people. He said he could build a school for $12,000 and finally Jean Hoerni, founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, sent him a check.

Greg had no experience fundraising or building schools, but he had a strong will to help the children get an education and he continually found the way to make it happen. On Hoerni’s death, he endowed the Central Asia Institute with $1 million and named Greg the director. It gave Greg the funds to build more schools and eventually more people were brought on board to help in the efforts, both in the U.S. and in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg has given tirelessly of himself in the last 16 years and has had tremendous support from his wife and two children. He spends part of each year in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region and the other part in the U.S. giving fund-raising speeches. He is a current nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and has won numerous awards.

This post just cannot do justice to the miracles that Greg Mortenson has brought into reality through his tenacity and passion. He has withstood personal danger, financial hardship, long separations from his family, and much more to make an education a reality for children…especially girls…who would otherwise have no future.

Greg has found that educating a girl does three important things:

  1. Significantly decreases the population explosion over a generation or two
  2. Reduces infant mortality dramatically in a decade or two
  3. Significantly improves the basic quality of health and life itself

Greg’s efforts have also helped build bridges, pipes to provide clean water, women’s centers, and other structures necessary to make it possible for children to attend school.

three-cups-of-tea-book-coverGreg is a testament to what one person can do…an unlikely hero, but a hero still. Read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg and David Oliver Relin about Greg’s journey. It is captivating. You can read more about Greg on the www.threecupsoftea.com website.

You can also learn more about the Central Asia Institute and make a donation to help build more schools. Pennies for Peace is a program of the Central Asia Institute that educates children about the world outside their experience and encourages them to make an impact globally by contributing pennies.

It only costs $1 a month to educate a child and $1 a day to pay a teacher’s salary. Consider giving. Your money will go a long way to making a huge difference in a child’s life.

Bravo, Greg Mortenson! You are my hero!

UPDATE 11/28/09: In a 11/25 letter from the Central Asia Institute, they say that they established 21 new schools in 2009 in Afghanistan. They also “started two dozen more women’s literacy centers, scholarship programs for hundreds of eager students and a new maternal health-training program in northern Pakistan.” Their Pennies for Peace program grew from 250 to over 4,600 schools in 2009. The program brought in the equivalent of 160 million pennies to help students all over the world. Greg’ new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan is being released 12/1.





Who Wants to Buy a Slumdog Millionaire Actress?

19 04 2009
That’s what 9-year-old Rubina Ali’s impoverished father Rafiq Qureshi is asking. He’s offering her for sale. An undercover team from News of the World, self-described as “Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper featuring the best news, showbiz and sport exclusives,” traveled to Dubai after receiving a tip from someone close to Rubina’s family and posed as a wealthy Dubai family interested in illegally purchasing the girl.
 
Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

One Middle Eastern family has legitimately offered to adopt the girl, but her father has gotten greedy and wants 200,000 pounds for her now (equal to $294,880 in dollars).

The News of the World article points out the father’s utter lack of concern of what could happen to his daughter if she were sold:

Trafficking of poor Indian children to the Middle East, where they are forced to risk their lives as camel jockeys or subjected to sexual abuse, is common in the Mumbai slums. But that did not deter Rafiq.

Children are often seen as commodities in poor areas of India and other countries and parents are left with difficult choices. Rubina’s father said: “We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what’s best for me, my family and Rubina’s future.”

It is difficult to imagine living in such poverty as the people who live in the Mumbai slums. If you have seen the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” you got a glimpse of how they live…and of how Rubina lives.

Rubina’s father is being an opportunist. He knows that she can attract the attention of wealthy people who can give her a better life. In that regard, he is no different from the father of Madonna’s Malawi child giving his son up for Madonna to adopt so he could have a better life. Rafiq Qureshi also sees this as his one chance in life to provide for himself and the rest of his family.

To raffle his child off to the highest bidder sends chills up my spine. It is to see a child as an object…something to sell to get money. I think of the preciousness of a daughter…the hopes for her future, the love she gives and brings to the family, the delight in seeing her grow up and develop into her own person, the pride in knowing that she came from you, etc….I cannot imagine under any circumstance selling her or giving her up.

Is this what poverty does? Harden people to the point that they don’t see children and women as precious? Or is there something in the character and genetics of people…people who are so callous and selfish and money-grubbing that they would sell their own daughter even in the face that she could be prostituted…that leads to their poverty? Can one be so bankrupt in morals and love and basic caring for a child and also expect to live in anything but poverty? Don’t the two go hand in hand?

To realize the preciousness of a child is to see oneself as abundant. All the riches in the world come with having a child. And to see a child only as something to be sold means that the poor cannot see true abundance when they have it and will never truly attain it.

UPDATE 4/21/09: The producers of the Slumdog Millionaire movie have now hired a social worker to look after Rubina after this happened. Rubina’s father has been arrested and there is a huge uproar about this in India. Rubina’s biological mother is demanding custody of Rubina.

UPDATE 4/22/09: Officials have released Rubina’s father and say they have no proof he tried to sell her.





Courage in Afghanistan

15 04 2009

Today the women in Kabul, Afghanistan demonstrated against the recent Taliban-like law that dictates that Shiite women must give their husbands sex when he demands it and ask their husband for permission to leave the house, go to the doctor, get an education, etc. I wrote about this in detail in my post Honey, I Have a Headache – Not in Afghanistan You Don’t.

Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images for The New York Times

Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images for The New York Times

It takes tremendous courage for these 300 women to protest and demand that the new law be repealed. An angry crowd of close to 1000 mostly men poured into the streets near them and some shouted “Get out of here, you whores!” And worse, “Death to the enemies of Islam! We want Islamic law!” They threw stones at the women.

I remember when a group of Saudi women in 1990 drove cars in protest of their country’s law that women can’t drive. NPR.com reports that:

The women paid heavily for their actions — all the drivers, and their husbands, were barred from foreign travel for a year. Those women who had government jobs were fired. And from hundreds of mosque pulpits, they were denounced by name as immoral women out to destroy Saudi society.

And today, women still cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.

President Karzai signed the Afghan law. He is under intense international pressure to change the law, which has not yet gone into effect, and he is considering making some changes. A leading cleric Ayatollah Mohseni said: “If a woman says no [to sex] the man has the right not to feed her.” Stunning.

For more on this, read this New York Times article, which appears in the 4/16 print edition of the Times.





LGBT (Gay) in America…LGBT in Iraq

13 04 2009

gays-holding-hands1As gay marriage, gays in the military, gay teachers, gay friends, etc. become mainstream, we must not forget that LGBT people still suffer. A gay couple was thrown out of the beautiful Four Seasons hotel downtown in Austin (a very gay-friendly town) recently because one guy sat on the other’s lap in the lobby. Students are still harrassed in school.

To bring attention to this, the Day of Silence is being celebrated throughout the U.S. on Friday, April 17. According to the website:

Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Students who participate in this stay silent the entire day to bring attention to the silence faced by LGBT students in the face of name calling, bullying, etc. According to the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), 61% of students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

If you’d like to encourage Congress to support the National Day of Silence, go to this Gay Rights page on the Change.org website and sign the petition.  The resolution was introduced to the House of Representatives on April 2nd.

The White House and President Obama support several LGBT initiatives, which can be found by going to this whitehouse.gov civil rights page. On June 1, 2007, candidate Barack Obama said the following:

While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.

We are making great strides in treating LGBT people with respect, but there are still hate crimes and murders here. And while our government is struggling with how to treat LGBT equally, police here are at least not hunting down LGBT people as they are in Iraq.

Is there anyone to help me before it is too late? That’s the urgent plea in a handwritten note released last weekend from a member of the Iraqi-LGBT who is being held for execution because he is gay. In an April 7, 2009 article, the New York Times reports:

In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said.

The police have been working to “clean up the streets” of beggars and homosexuals lately. A gay subculture has sprung up with the increased freedom in Iraq, but homosexuality is still against the law. The Times speaks of the fatwa that was issued against homosexuals in Iraq:

In 2005, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a religious decree that said gay men and lesbians should be “punished, in fact, killed.” He added, “The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.” The language has since been removed from his Web site.

Below is a disturbing report from CNN about gays being targeted in Iraq. One young man interviewed says he would rather commit suicide rather than admit to his family that he is gay. So when you walk down the street and think of the freedom that you have to love who you want and hug your partner, remember that if you were lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgendered, it could put you in danger in an American school or get you killed in Iraq.

 





Run for Congo Women – Women for Women

11 04 2009

run-for-congo-women2A story on Oprah about the plight of Congo women and what Women for Women International is doing to help them spurred Lisa Shannon of Portland, Oregon to take action. She organized Run for Congo Women to raise money to help the women there and today bloggers are uniting to bring attention to this cause.

I wrote about the incredible HBO documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo in a November post. Women and children continue to suffer greatly there. The 3/27/09 United Nations Security Council report of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) reports the following:

  • As of January, there were an estimated 1.4 million displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with 707,000 of those being in the northern area of the province of Kivu.
  • Attacks on humanitarian workers, human rights, and the socio-economic and financial situation there have worsened “significantly” even since the start of 2009.
  • Members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), the Congolese National Police, and other armed groups have committed egregious human rights abuses such as arbitrary executions, torture, extortion, abduction and disappearance of citizens, and rapes.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence continues with 11,00 rapes being reported each month. Varying from area to area, 35% to 50% of the victims are between 10  and 17 years old and 10% were younger than 10 years old.

Lisa Shannon is one person who decided to do something to make a difference. Below is a 2008 video of her speaking about Run for Congo Women. Another video from Women for Women follows that talks about how we can change the lives of women there by sponsoring a Congolese woman or donating to the organization. Go to http://www.womenforwomen.org to find out more or make a donation.





Mommy Died in the War

9 04 2009

Since 9/11, over 8,000 U.S. children have lost a parent in the military, according to the Department of Defense. These are the young casualties of war that we don’t talk about or even think about very often. Today I watched a 2007 movie “Grace is Gone” on HBO and I thought about it and cried…a lot.

grace-is-gone-movieIn the movie, John Cusack plays the stoic and sad father of 8- and 12-year-old girls whose mother Grace is a sargent in Iraq. He is notified that Grace died in combat and is at a loss for how to tell his daughters. He impetuously decides to take them on a bonding adventure, a testament to the love and sacrifice of parents that we try to ease the pain of our children in any way we can.

The movie was scored with beautiful music by Clint Eastwood, who was nominated for two Golden Globes for the score and one song. I could really feel the emotions of the father as he agonized over the loss of his wife and his daughters’ loss of their mother.

Over 8000 children have felt that loss due to our being in Iraq and Afghanistan. They already were made to sacrifice while the parent was away from home, but with a sudden death, they aren’t even given the opportunity to say goodbye to their parent. That parent will never come to their future soccer games and ballet recitals and graduations and weddings and baby christenings. That parent will never again hug them or tuck them in at night or comfort them when they’re scared or tell them they’re proud of how well they’re doing in school. All that is gone.

The child(ren) and the remaining parent are left to carry on…to grieve, to find some new normal in life, to wonder why this happened to them, and to ache for the loss of someone who can never be replaced.

It is important to remember that sacrifice comes even from small children in these wars we are fighting. And children suffer not only here in the U.S., but also in Iraq, where it is estimated that more than five million children (at the end of 2007; source: Iraq’s anti-corruption board) are orphans, mostly due to the war.

Take the time to watch Grace is Gone on HBO or rent the DVD. It is moving. It will touch you. If you want to help out families who have lost a loved one in the war, consider donating to one of these organizations.

  • Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund – provides unrestricted grants to families of fallen troops
  • Fallen Patriot Fund – provides financial grants to the families of those killed or seriously injured in Iraq
  • Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) – provides services to all who have lost a loved one while serving in the U.S. armed forces
  • Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society – provides financial assistance and emergency grants to families and survivors.




  • Human Rights Activists on Twitter

    8 04 2009

    Here are some Human Rights activists I follow on Twitter. I am so twitterappreciative of the work they do and what I learn from them. You might want to check them out too if you’re a Twitter fan.

    GENERAL

    http://twitter.com/HumanRightsNews – News headlines on human rights

    http://twitter.com/hrcberkeley – Human Rights Center UC Berkeley

    http://twitter.com/susanneure – Web editor for Amnesty Intl in Canada

    http://twitter.com/AmnestyIntl – Amnesty Intl

    http://twitter.com/AmnestyUK – Amnesty Intl in UK

    http://twitter.com/AmnestyOnline – International Secretariat of Amnesty International

    http://twitter.com/phrTweets – Physicians for Human Rights

    http://twitter.com/The_Advocates – The Advocates for Human Rights

    http://twitter.com/ladu – human rights activist

    http://twitter.com/rtsadvocate – human rights activist

    HOMELESS/REFUGEES

    http://twitter.com/MLFNOW – helping the homeless

    http://twitter.com/wrcommission – Women’s Refugee Commission working to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugee women and children.

    http://twitter.com/theIRC – The International Rescue Committee goes to crisis zones to rescue and rebuild. We lead refugees from harm to home.

    WOMEN’S RIGHTS

    http://twitter.com/HumanFolly – editor of Change.org Women’s Rights blog

    GENDER VIOLENCE

    http://twitter.com/sinbysilence – documentary on stopping violence against women

    http://twitter.com/FGFoundation – working to end gender violence

    http://twitter.com/WRC_DOD – White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women

    CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

    http://twitter.com/childrensrights – working to reform child welfare systems

    TORTURE
    http://twitter.com/notorture – healing torture survivors

    http://twitter.com/IStandVsTorture – an umbrella campaign for a U.S. Commission to Investigate Torture

    DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

    http://twitter.com/StopConflict – working to stop conflict in the Congo

    HUMAN TRAFFICKING

    http://twitter.com/AaronCohen777 – rescuing victims of child trafficking

    http://twitter.com/TheA21Campaign – abolishing the injustice of human trafficking in the 21st century

     

    http://twitter.com/VisionAbolition – dedicated to prevention, rescue, and restoration of sexually exploited and trafficked children

    http://twitter.com/RichLeger – human trafficking activist with Abolish Slavery Coalition

    http://twitter.com/slaverymap – online repository of human trafficking incidences

    http://twitter.com/EBain – author of Season of Light blog on child trafficking

    http://twitter.com/BuckUpCampaign – building shelters for sex trafficking victims by asking people to donate $1

    http://twitter.com/endingslavery – writer of One Voice to End Slavery blog

    http://twitter.com/FredDouglassSon – Frederick Douglas Family Foundation fighting modern day slavery

    Here are additional abolitionists (people who fight slavery and human trafficking) from Diana Scimone:

    @Freeallslaves
    @freedomday
    @IJMcampaigns
    @IJMHQ
    @ijminstitute
    @innocentjustice
    @Justicecrazy
    @lovejustice
    @nowhere2hide

    @nosilencenow

    @Polaris_Project

    @advancnonprofit

    @AmberGlattSmith

    @antitrafficking

    @BeverlyHogue
    @brandedphx

    @cfpdx
    @charlestlee

    @cortneyr
    @dhepburn

    @ElCuso12

    @fisher_david

    @just4one
    @LaLaLives
    @lwood15
    @MaeSotShane

    @maryhooke
    @mathewhulbert
    @MatthewBarnett

    @mgjack

    @missdeneen
    @monicabrand

    @mrskutcher
    @NatalieGrant
    @northernchick
    @NYTimesKristof
    @respres

    @sethjohnson78

    @ProjectExodus
    @RedLightCC
    @ROBLOVE146

    @RunForFreedom
    @socialheart
    @thesoldproject

    @Traffickfree
    @trafficksucks

    In addition to the above, this is a wonderful list from Emily at the Season of Light blog on ending child trafficking on people who twitter on human trafficking:

    Individuals:

    Diana Scimone, Born2Fly: @DianaScimone

    Brandi, Social Heart Blog: @socialheart

    Carol Fenton:@cfpdx

    Greg Darley: @gregdarley

    Nicholas Kristof, New York Times reporter: @nytimeskristof

    Somaly Mam, The Somaly Mam Foundation: @somalymam

    Seth Johnson, Transitions Global: @sethjohnson78

    Stef, Nowhere2Hide: @nowhere2hide

    Laura: @LaLaLives

    Mae Potter: @maepotter

    Amanda Kloer, Change.org blog: @endhumantraffic

    Organizations

    ECPATUSA: @ecpatUSA

    FreeChains: @freechains

    IJM: @IJMHQ

    Not for Sale: @not_for_sale

    Redlight Children: @redlightcc

    SheDances: @shedances

    The SOLD Project: @thesoldproject

    Transitions Global: @transitions_g





    The Tortured Gitmo 14: Americans Unknowingly Paid for This

    6 04 2009

    Stripped naked for weeks. Deprived of food. Chained with hands above the head while standing for days on end. Denied sleep for days. Beaten brutally.

    Credit: Antiwar.com

    Credit: Antiwar.com

    Kept in solitary confinment for months and years with no knowledge of where they were, no contact with anyone except their masked interrogators, and no news of the outside world. Denied access to a toilet. Suffocated by water.

    Repeatedly slung against a wall with the collar they were forced to wear. Threatened with being infected with HIV…or the arrest and rape of their families…or of being sodomized…or of being electrically shocked…or of being brought close to death. Doctors monitoring the torture and even participating in it.

    This and more is what happened to 14 “high value” detainees that the International Red Cross was allowed to visit at Guantanamo and interview in October and December of 2006. The complete February 2007 “Strictly Confidential” report of what they saw and heard entitled ICRC REPORT ON THE ON THE TREATMENT OF FOURTEEN “HIGH VALUE DETAINEES” IN CIA CUSTODY was published today online on the New York Review of Books website by Mark Danner, a long-time contributor to the Review and author of the book Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror.

    If you want to know more, I wrote about Mr. Danner’s article with more details of the Red Cross report in the post (with the same name as the article) U.S. Torture: Voices from the Black Sites.

    Why were Bush and his cronies allowed to stay in office when it was so clear that they lied when they said they weren’t torturing, broke the law, spit on the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, and egregiously took away human rights of detainees? Read the International Red Cross report. The Bush Administration is guilty of torture. It is time that Americans demand that Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Yoo, Addington, Rumsfeld, etc. be brought to justice. They need to be held accountable so the world can begin to heal from the harm they did.

    I urge you to contact Attorney General Eric Holder and ask him to take action on this. You can contact him at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.





    Honey, I Have a Headache – Not in Afghanistan You Don’t

    4 04 2009

    You can’t say no if your husband wants sex and you’re a Shiite Muslim woman in Afghanistan. You are required by a new law to have sex with him whenever he asks unless you are ill. Convenient for the men…and critics are outraged at the worsening of women’s human rights in Afghanistan. Estimates put the number of Shiite (or Shi’a) Muslims there who are affected by the new law at 10 – 25% of the population.

    The new law signed by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai restricts a Shiite woman’s rights even further:

    • She cannot leave the house without her husband’s permission and it can be only for a “legitimate purpose.”
    • She cannot seek work or hold a job without her husband’s permission.
    • She cannot get an education without her husband’s permission.
    • She cannot make a doctor’s appointment without her husband’s permission.
    • She cannot be granted child custody in the case of divorce; custody goes only to fathers and grandfathers .
    • She cannot inherit houses or land from her husband, but he can inherit them from her.

    An United Nations press release was issued about this on 4/2/09 and begins by stating this:

    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday urged the Afghan Government to rescind a new law, reportedly signed by President Karzai earlier this month, saying it would seriously undermine women’s rights in Afghanistan and contravene the Afghanistan constitution as well as universal human rights standards.

    The press release quotes Ms. Pillay as saying that:

    This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse not better. Respect for women’s rights – and human rights in general – is of paramount importance to Afghanistan’s future security and development. This law is a huge step in the wrong direction.

    I got a small taste of these lack of freedoms for women when I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1979 and 1980. I could not drive a car. A man had to accompany me anywhere I went. I had to have my arms and legs covered when I went to the main souq (marketplace) downtown (with a man, of course). I wasn’t allowed to work except to teach in the American school. I could not even go to Jeddah to join my husband until he had established himself as a legitimate person working in that country. I was left behind in the U.S. pregnant for several months and had the baby without him by my side as a result.

    But my restricted freedoms were nothing like what the Afghan Shi’a women are now being faced with. The new law legalizes a husband raping his wife. He has total control over what she does and when. If you are a woman, ask yourself how you would like to have no choice on whether you have sex or not with your husband. How would you like to be told that you cannot get an education or a job or leave the house or even go to the doctor without your husband’s approval?

    The freedoms we enjoy in the United States as women are immense compared to those that are slipping away from or nonexistent to women in other parts of the world. We don’t have pay parity with men. We don’t have many women in executive positions. We have never had a woman president. But we can choose to say no to our husbands when we don’t feel like having sex.

    Let us remember our sisters all over the world and join Commissioner Pillay and President Obama in denouncing this new Afghan law that makes a woman less than a person.





    International Free the Slaves Awareness Day

    26 03 2009

    Did you know that there are 27 million slaves worldwide today? Shocking, isn’t it? March 27 is International Free the Slaves Awareness Day. Free the Slaves is a not for profit organization that “… liberates slaves around the world, helps them rebuild their lives and researches real world solutions to eradicate slavery forever.” They have a 25-year plan to eradicate slavery. Here are facts they list about slavery:

    slavery-facts-from-free-the-slaves2

    Think slavery doesn’t exist in the U.S.? Think again. Slaves are harbored in 90 U.S. cities. An estimated 50% of the over 14,500 – 17,500 slaves trafficked into the U.S. each year are sex slaves; the other 50% are in the agriculture, domestic service, manufacturing, and other industries.

    The largest numbers of slaves – as many as 18 million – are in Pakistan, Nepal, and India. The Free the Slaves website has an interactive map you can click on to find out about slavery in any part of the world.

    President Obama calls human slavery a “top priority.” In a March 24, 2009 White House press release, “President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Luis C. de Baca as Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department.” If you want to help, Free the Slaves has a whole page of suggestions.

    You can read other posts I have written about slavery/trafficking:

    The average citizen in the U.S. can possibly save a person being held in slavery by being alert to things that don’t seem right and being inquisitive. A slave may even be a teenager living with their family and being coerced into sexual slavery as is the case in the post mentioned above.

    Watch this excellent video from Free the Slaves with personal stories of people enslaved under false pretenses. The resiliency and spirit of people who have been through this horror is amazing. Join Free the Slaves and the many other excellent organizations such as isanctuary.org and FreeGirl Foundation that work to stamp out human slavery and trafficking. We all bear responsibility for our brothers and sisters all over the world.